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The Jam's fifth album is the greatest album ever made. You can argue the merits of any classic album to me and you could tell me why it's better than 'Sound Affects', but it wouldn't make a blind bit of difference.
I have played 'Sound Affects' more than any other record or CD since I bought it. I know every word from Shelley's poem on the back sleeve to every lyric that hit home like an Exocet.
The mix of Paul Weller, Bruce and Rick all at the top of their game with the skilled production of Vic Coppersmith Heaven (what a name; should be knighted for that alone) placed them firmly in place as the nation's best band.
The Police and The Clash may have conquered the world, but I don't think that a kid from Arbroath or Aberwyswyth was ever going to dress like Sting or understand Joe Strummer's well-meaning politics on Nicaragua.
The front sleeve encapsulates what Paul Weller saw in life at that time, including everything that represented him and his take on Britain at the turn of the "so called" decadent 80's.
(Whoever it was who thought the 80's a decadent time was hanging with Duran Duran and Katherine Hamnett. Wanker.)
The album was The Jam's most expensive to make and they missed several deadlines for its copletion, as the band were writing in studio time.
Recorded between June 15 and October 22 it was eventually released on November 28, 1980.
It reached No. 2 in the UK, and a heady No. 77 in the USA. Magnificently crafted at the Townhouse Studios on Goldhawk Road, London W12, it went on to sell nearly 300,000 copies on vinyl.
First though, my story with this work of art started a bit later than its birth into the public. Even though I usually had a few albums given to me at Christmas, I was predominantly a singles man. Well, when you are 14/15 years old, the pocket money and paper round dough was spent on going to football; you didn't have a lot left, so 4 and a half quid for a record was out of the question.
I didn't have an older brother and my pals were mainly into Jazz/Funk, so apart from Madness's debut, 'One Step Beyond', and Specials' first and fucking 'Regatta De Blanc', I was barren like a desert on the Long Player front. I couldn't nick the old man's records, as apart from every household's de riguer Beatles Blue and Red Albums, his taste seemed a polar opposite to mine. Miles Davis and Simon & Garfunkel didn't resonate until a lot later in life. John Denver was just plain fucking weird.
In the summer of '81, I found myself looking through the racks of Sellanby in South Harrow; there was a second-hand copy of 'Sound Affects' at a reasonable price. It was in decent nick but half of me was thinking that £2.49 was 3 singles, or 2 singles and a bag of chips from the excellent Greek chippy next door (RIP).
Fuck it. It was a calling; I was well aware of the sleeve as I'd mooned over it a couple of times previously but I needed to have it. I'd got most of the Jam's 7"'s so they were the band that mattered to me more than any other.
Having seen The Jam do 'Pretty Green' and 'Boy About Town' on an unbelievably crap Saturday morning show that the BBC always put on when the just as shit Multi Coloured Swap Shop had it's holiday, I knew the time had come to step up. I'd recorded 'Get Set For Summer' on the Ferguson VHS recorder even though the old man refused to let us use it unless he was about (I'd already taped over most of Brideshead Revisited with the Big Match and Tiswas) and had got really obsessed with 'Pretty Green'.
You don't compute at the age of 15 that the song is about capitalism and the evils of money, but the whole feel of the stop/start groove really stood out for me. Get back home, and all those old cliches of buying vinyl back then are true. You study. The run out grooves, the lyrics, trying to work out what ground the picture of football fans is on (Gallowgate End, St James's Park?), the inner sleeve picture taken at 5am to get the dawn light. The record slowly becomes part of you.
You might not understand the full meaning of 'Set the House Ablaze' but you know it's about the nastier side of life. 'Monday' is universal though. When Weller sings "I will never be embarrassed about love again" you know that one day you will feel like that.
'Start', with its now obvious reference to the Beatles 'Taxman', meant absolute jack shit to me as I'd never heard 'Revolver'. That's why I could never understand all those wanky DJs and journalists moaning about rip off. It had already been a chart topper and an overplayed record in my house so it was already part of the psyche.
Side 2's opener, 'Dreamtime' had an other worldy feel, which I now see as a certain detachedness that I felt at that age. The feeling of being an awkward teenager and not fitting in, it certainly felt unique back then. With the backward tape loop and the crashing chords, I used to put that on especially loud and get right into tennis racket shapes whilst shouting, "STREETS I RAN, THIS WHOLE TOWN, BACKSTREETS AND ALL, I WANTED TO LEAVE THERE, JUST NO MATTER HOW FAST I RAN...". I used to feel empowered by just the opening verse and then shrink back into small town paranoia by the end.
The manic pop thrill of 'Boy About Town' and especially 'But I'm Different Now' had me pogoing round the bedroom. The use of the word "superb" is massively underused in music but for someone like Weller whose every step was watched by fans and critics alike throws caution to the wind and pronounces, "Superb that your my ... GIRL...".
'That's Entertainment' is the hymn that seems to be missing from the church on Sundays. The song, written in ten minutes after a sesh down the local and which later turned out to be massively influenced by a poem sent to him by a fan for his newly set up publishing company, is as much part of working class heritage as it is Weller's. 'Man In The Corner Shop' is so simple but so poignant; I used to wonder if my local shopkeeper was jealous of any of his punters. Mind you, factory owners were in s
'Music For The Last Couple', which, I have to say, I used to skip if only for the fact that my sister used to turn the sound of the fly right up and drive me fucking mad, still had the single lyric about poison trains and references to the shift of nuclear waste going through our green and pleasant land that the government tried to hush up – even the so-called throw away track had a deeper meaning.
'Scrape Away' though was the one that really made me feel deeper and heavier than any song I'd ever heard until that point. As an end to an album it really left me in a state of confusion. It's not a happy ending, it's not a nice send off. It's no 'Chipmunks Are Go' or 'Garageland'. It doesn't send you on your way with joy in your heart and a nice cuddle. The supposed attack on John Lydon is a real sonic assault with it's dub overtones, and it had the feel of sharded glass on flesh. "You've given up hope, you're jaded and ill, the trouble is your thoughts are a catching disease..."
With Bruce's bass line, which wouldn't have sounded out of place in a warehouse rave later on, and Rick's fantastic drumming, the whole band sounded like they'd spent the last 3 months in a rainy and cold Berlin rather than in sunny Shepherds Bush. I used to play the album again just to take away the disturbed feeling that 'Scrape Away' used to leave me with. The French geezer over the mournful jagged guitars on the fade out was really unnerving but absolutely compelling. A bit like The Shining with Rickenbackers.
The imminent release of the deluxe edition has made me revisit that time and era and you could see where Weller was at: desperate to move on from the classic sound, swapping The Who for Wire and James Brown for Joy Division. Lyrically, you can almost feel his disenfranchised feeling for England and the world as Thatcher started to make waves in the political arena and as the real threat of a nuclear war developed with Russia and the USA going head-to-head in who's dad was bigger.
Me, I was never a happy-go-lucky kid with just Chelsea and girls on my mind. Life might have been easier back then if I was, but then, I wouldn't have had the feeling I get whenever i put 'Sound Affects' on.
© Words Stuart Deabill
Used by The Kind Permission of Stuart Deabill & Away From The Numbers
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